Happy birthday, Starmaker Bolin

bolin1Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin had hoped to have his autobiography ready to release today, his birthday. It’s still in the works, and no, it’s not because he’s struggled to find people to say nice things about him. Here’s a sampling of what some folks have said about the Starmaker

“Although I had more of a national presence, Kenny got to work consistently more than I ever did, managed far better talent than I ever did, and was allowed to be the lovable con artist he is without any obvious outside ‘producing’ and ‘writing’ to spoil his unique personality. To steal a phrase from Hunter S. Thompson, he is ‘one of God’s own prototypes.'” – The Sinister Minister, James Mitchell

“I got an email inviting me to call in and participate in a Roast of Kenny Bolin on Blogtalkradio. I know people wanted to hear me roast Kenny for all the things he did to me back in OVW, but I couldn’t do it. My years at OVW were golden, and King B was the biggest part of that, figuratively and literally. Kenny made me a star, and he made me the biggest heel at OVW. I owe everything I achieved at OVW and later the WWE to Kenny Bolin. I was very blessed to do the things I did, and I am thankful to say that Kenny Bolin is still my friend.” – Rico Costantino

“Kenny is truly a star maker. If only he would burn the videos he has of me and Cena way, way back when we were both in the rise. But then if it weren’t for Kenny, no one would care about those videos. Congrats, Kenny.” – Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks

One evening, I received a voice mail from Kenny. He had dialed my number by mistake, and he thought he was leaving a message for one of his many Beets by Bolin customers. The voice mail gave me a rare insight into the real Kenny Bolin as he spoke about a young fan, a girl with autism, who would be his dinner guest along with his family. He was treating all four of them to dinner and hooking the young lady up with a pair of Beets, and autographed photo, and a copy of a John Cena video. It’s entirely possible that once this young girl got to the restaurant, Kenny charged her for her stuff just the same as he did his own daughter-in-law the night he met her, but I prefer to think that there actually is a heart underneath all that bravado. As Jim Cornette likes to say, you just have to dig through too many layers to get to it.

Happy birthday, Kenny Bolin. I’m happy to call you a friend.

Hoosier Hero Stu Gibson

stugibson-sheik When I my family moved to Indiana in 1988, we immersed ourselves in Indiana’s proudest tradition, becoming fans of New Albany High School basketball. One of the players we saw every week during the 88-89 season was a young man who would go on to be a three time WWE tag team champion and two time NWA world champion, Rob Conway.

Rob Conway’s not the only NAHS alum to become a big time professional wrestler. Crybaby Chris Alexander (who was in marching band with me at NAHS) learned to run the ropes at the same as Conway. But long before either man set foot in Ohio Valley Wrestling, there was Stu Gibson.

Stu Gibson was an All-Indiana football player at New Albany High School, graduating in 1943. He played college ball at the University of Louisville. He was even made a Kentucky Colonel after leading the team in scoring in 1947.

Gibson was also a Golden Glove boxer, but after graduating from U of L, he chose to pursue professional wrestling, working first for Francis McDonough and the Allen Athletic Club. Gibson would work mostly as a babyface during his years in Louisville, but he was equally successful as a babyface and a heel, especially down in Texas.

Wrestling historian J. Michael Kenyon recorded one of Gibson’s most memorable stunts from the early 60s. “It was a small card at Victoria TX, where Gibson and Danny McShain hooked up in double count-out. It ended back in the corner of the building, on top of the concession stand, with Gibson spooning mustard into the semi-conscious form of McShain, amid veritable pandemonium.

“Okay, so what — but the kicker was cute: They came back a week later, in a rematch, with McShain refusing to wrestle until ‘all mustard was barred from the building.’ And that turned out to be the actual stip, with the fans forced to eat ‘dry’ hot dogs for a night.”

Gibson passed away in 1988. His story is told in my latest book, Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club.

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A New Beginning

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The back wall of my man cave is not prepped and ready for battle.

Right now, there are 50 cards with 50 stories to find and write. They are stories about promoter Louisville wrestling Heywood Allen; wrestling venues like the Columbia Gym and the outdoor Sports Arena; big names like Lou Thesz, Orville Brown, and June Byars; and local names like Stu Gibson, Mel Meiners, Kid Scotty Williams, and Blacksmith Pedigo.

The goal: to tell the full story of Heywood Allen and the Allen Athletic Club, Louisville’s wrestling source from 1935-1957.

I’ll be posting updates and stories here as the book progresses. Meantime, you can get a glimpse of the story – and the rest of Louisville’s wrestling history – with my first book, Bluegrass Brawlers.

Very excited to tell the story of Louisville’s forgotten wrestling promotion.

OVW HD – A new Indiegogo Campaign!

The first time I saw Ryan Howe was the night after Wrestlemania XXVII. He was the first of the new round of Tough Enough contestants to introduce himself to a Raw crowd that chanted for Stone Cold Steve Austin to “Stun them all!”

I saw him again almost two years later at OVW, the night I started work on Bluegrass Brawlers. He didn’t wrestle that night, but I saw him a few times over the next couple of years. He had a great look, and he showed potential, but he was always in the mid-card, working underneath guys like Rob Terry and Jamin Olivencia. He was better each time I saw him, but he was always outshined by the main event players.

Wednesday night, I saw him again. He worked the main event against OVW champion Mohamed Ali Vaez. This was a completely different Ryan Howe than I had ever seen before. Same look, same gimmick, but there was a confidence and a swagger about him I hadn’t seen before. Howe looked like he belonged in that main event. He looked ready for the next step. If history is any indication at OVW, he’ll probably get it sooner rather than later.

That’s the legacy of OVW. OVW has set the standard for wrestling schools for nearly 20 years. Cena, Orton, Lesnar, Batista, Punk, Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, Miz, Mizdow, Henry, Big Show, Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Dinsmore, Conway, Shelton Benjamin, John Morrison, Lisa Marie Varon, Jamin Olivencia, Rockstar Spud. Over 100 students have gone on from OVW to work for WWE or TNA.

OVW just launched an Indiegogo campaign to upgrade their television equipment. OVW is the longest running wrestling television program in America outside of WWE (over 800 episodes!), and they’re ready to step it up and go HD. This campaign will allow them to upgrade their studio, their cameras, and their editing equipment so they can continue to produce a top quality program while providing the best training for the business, from inside the ring to the editing room.

OVW television airs locally in Louisville, but it’s also available to view online. OVW alums have shared with me how fans have come up to them in airports and venues around the country, fans who know them only from watching online. Most recently, OVW announcer Dean Hill told me he was approached by a fan in Seattle, Washington who watched OVW on TV!

Independent wrestling is growing in popularity once more, and OVW is positioning itself to take advantage of the changing tides. Check out the campaign on Indiegogo and the perks that are available – including and opportunity to train at the school. And by all means go to www.ovwrestling.com to check out their show for yourself!

The Black Panther – Ads from the Courier-Journal

It’s been a few days since I posted. Been a busy week with other writing projects besides wrestling. Hoping to resume my normal writing schedule by end of the week.

I did get to take in the OVW TV taping tonight. Strong showing by Ryan Howe and Mohamad Ali Vaez in the main event, and it was great seeing Jim Cornette and Jeff Jarrett (yes, Jeff Jarrett!!) in the ring. Prior to that had dinner with Cornette, Kenny Bolin, and legendary OVW announcer Dean Hill. Some great stories were shared that will pop up in future blogs and book projects.

Prior to that, I went to the library to do a little more digging on both The Black Panther Jim Mitchell and promoter Heywood Allen. Here are a couple of ads I found today featuring Mitchell, one from 1941 and the other from 1954.

panther 1941

1954 police show

 

1954 police show

panther 1941 1954 police show

February 18, 1947: Heywood Allen Says Goodbye

1941 thesz allen1941 thesz allen1941 thesz allenSixty-eight years ago this week, Heywood Allen promoted his last show in Louisville, Kentucky.

On February 9, 1947, The Courier-Journal reported that Allen had sold his interest in the Allen Athletic Club to co-owner Francis A. McDonough, Jr., and a farewell show was scheduled for February 18.

A crowd of 5000 people packed the Armory for Allen’s last show. World champion Bill Longson was on hand, defeating Felix Miquet (whose brother Francois would become famous as Corsica Joe) in two out of three falls. Babe Sharkey and Ed Meske won victories over Miguel Torres and Ralph Garibaldi, respectively, and Mickey Gold drew with Joe Millich.

Governor Simeon S. Willis received an invitation for the special event, along with a group of men referred to in the paper as the “Ole Gang of Allen’s.” The gang included McDonough, Charley Schullman, George Lewis, Paul Neal, Pat Murphy, Clarence Brenzel, Kid Scotty Williams, Ray McDonough, and Billy Love. Other regional promoters and NWA dignitaries also came to pay tribute to Allen.

McDonough sent word out to the community hoping to find Allen’s oldest living fan. The honor went to a man named Robert T. Brown, who recalled one of Allen’s first matches as a bout between William Demetral and Jack Stone during Demetral’s first trip to town in 1912.

Allen worked matches in Louisville for 42 years. He bore witness to the birth of Ed “Strangler” Lewis, held court over the first golden age with Stecker, Caddock, and Zbyszko, weathered two world wars, the National Wrestling Association, the birth of the National Wrestling Alliance, and the rise of perhaps the greatest champ of all, Lou Thesz. The fire Allen ignited in Louisville sports fans would far outlive his career and his life, and the fruits of his labor can be seen today.

Read more about Heywood Allen and Louisville’s wrestling history in Bluegrass Brawlers.

Louisville’s Greatest Matches: Nova vs. John Cena

Crybaby Chris Alexander told me about this match when I was working on Bluegrass Brawlers. I honestly am not sure why this story did not make it into the book, other than I simply forgot about it.

Cena was “The Prototype,” an unstoppable monster heel who had run over every challenger in OVW. Nova was the new guy, a veteran of ECW looking for a new start with OVW and the WWE. His first night at OVW, he got a shot at the champion.

Alexander was backstage that. Danny Davis walked over to him, wearing a big smile. “Hey Chris,” he said, “Do you want to know how to put a new guy over in one night? Just watch.”

The First Scaffold Match

The scaffold match is the one match the WWE won’t touch because it’s too dangerous. The Road Warriors and the Midnight Express made the match legendary, but did you know the first scaffold match took place in Louisville, Kentucky?

The video’s a bit dark (because Louisville Gardens wasn’t well lit in 1971) but here, in three parts, is the first ever scaffold match featuring Jerry Jarrett and Don Greene, one of many historical moments mentioned in Bluegrass Brawlers.

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Part 3:

“The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell

The Black Panther Jim MitchellOne of the wrestlers I discovered while researching Bluegrass Brawlers was a man named Jim Mitchell. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Mitchell was one of the early African American pioneers in professional wrestling. He wasn’t the first; that distinction goes to a former slave named Viro Small, who became a star wrestling in New York back in 1874. But Mitchell was one of the first African Americans in the modern era to break the color barrier, wrestling against white opponents for major promotions.

Early in his career, Mitchell wore a hood to the ring. He called himself “The Black Panther,” and he did battle with other non-white wrestlers. He was in good company, frequently doing battle with fellow African American stars Seelie Samara and Gentleman Jack Claybourne.

Mitchell was an athletic and gifted wrestler who proved he could be a draw. After a successful European tour and stops all around the US and Canada, he ended up in Los Angeles and became a regular at the Olympic Auditorium. Mitchell soon found the confidence to lose the mask and even wrestle under his real name.

In the late 1940s the LA promoters took a chance and put Mitchell in the ring against white opponents. Mitchell had to work these matches as a babyface for fear of what might happen outside the ring if he were a heel. It was still a risk, but Mitchell’s battles with white opponents proved to be a hit, opening the doors for others to follow.

His most famous battle took place in 1949 against one of pro wrestling’s greatest heels, Gorgeous George. After George tossed Mitchell from the ring, an angry fan rushed into the ring to take a swing at George. George dispatched the fan quickly, but when he did, the fans rose up and rushed the ring. George and Mitchell slipped through a hidden tunnel to the locker room while a riot, divided largely along racial lines, raged inside the Olympic.

Mitchell and George would meet many times in the coming years. Their in-ring rivalry was fierce, but in the locker room, there was no real rivalry. What’s more, the racism that divided the cities where Mitchell wrestled was non-existent in the pro wrestling locker room. The wrestlers, black and white, were bonded together by the sport they loved and a common adversary: the promoters who paid them. A 1954 account of an appearance Mitchell made in his hometown of Louisville describes a scene where white wrestlers rose to embrace and shake hands with the returning hero.

Mitchell worked a little as a referee in his later years in the business, and he also traveled with future Hall of Famer Bobo Brazil. After retiring from the ring, Mitchell opened a store in the Toledo area called Black Panther Carryout. The walls of the store featured photos and memorabilia from Mitchell’s career, and locals would come in to talk wrestling in addition to shopping. He passed away in 1996 at the age of 87.

Mitchell is an unsung pioneer in the history of pro wrestling. He deserves to be in the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

Jim’s story is told in part in Louisville’s Greatest Show. I’m continuing my research on Jim Mitchells, and my hope is that I can eventually tell his full story. I’m looking for photos, programs, videos, stories, anything I can get my hands on. I’m also hoping to find some folks with first or second hand stories about the man, whether they come from relatives or the relatives of other wrestlers who worked with him.

If you’ve stumbled on this page and you have information about The Black Panther Jim Mitchell, please contact me at johncosper@yahoo.com. I would love to hear from you!

Upset about the Rumble?

esw coverFirst of all… let’s not get so upset we overlook the good.

We got a terrific title match, arguably the best triple threat of all time. And they made a legitimate main event star last night. His name is Seth Rollins.

That said, many people are beyond disgruntled today, and many have gone so far as to cancel their WWE Network subscriptions.

For those who have, and for those who haven’t but are still angry about the Rumble, maybe you should give independent wrestling a try?

Eat Sleep Wrestle is a great place to start exploring wrestling beyond the WWE. After I released Bluegrass Brawlers, I went out to some indy shows to sell the book. I had the opportunity to meet some of the Midwest’s finest indy talent, and I saw some amazing matches. I was so inspired by them, I had to tell their story.

These are not superstars. These are wrestlers. The people profiled in Eat Sleep Wrestle are passionate, driven people who work as hard or harder than anyone you’ll see on Monday Night (tonight excepted, of course).

Eat Sleep Wrestle will introduce you to people like Mad Man Pondo, Chris Hero, Crazy Mary Dobson, Aaron Williams, Ron Mathis, Hy Zaya, Jamin Olivencia, Zodiak, Mickie Knuckles, Cherry Bomb, and Reed Bentley. It will make you realize there is wrestling beyond the WWE, and it will inspire you to follow your own dreams.

Yes, this is a shameless plug, but Raw isn’t live tonight, and you can get it on Kindle or Nook, why not give Eat Sleep Wrestle a try?